Though the origin of the word Halloween is Christian, the holiday is commonly thought to have pagan roots.
October 31 – Nov 1 was seen as the end of harvest and the beginning of the dark days of winter. This was a time when the ‘door’ to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings such as fairies, to come into our world.
Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. However, harmful spirits and fairies were also thought to be active. People took steps to allay or ward-off these harmful spirits/fairies. Wearing costumes may have originated as a means of disguising oneself from these harmful spirits/fairies.
In the Christian tradition, it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities. In Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers explained Halloween jack-o’-lanterns as originally being representations of souls in purgatory. In Brittany children would set candles in skulls in graveyards.
In Britain, these customs came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants berated purgatory as a “popish” doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination. The rising popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) from 1605 onward, saw many Halloween traditions appropriated by that holiday instead, and Halloween’s popularity waned in Britain, with the noteworthy exception of Scotland. There and in Ireland, the rebellious Guy Fawkes was not viewed with the same criminality as in England, and they had been celebrating Halloween since at least the early Middle Ages, and the Scottish Kirk took a more pragmatic approach to Halloween, seeing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of communities and thus ensuring its survival in that country.
Although there are religious observances associated with remembering the dead and all Hallows Eve, Halloween continues to be a popular non secular holiday especially for children. Costumes, trick or treating, pumpkin carving and parties highlight this tradition.
In 1950 a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia began the tradition of raising money for the United Nations program to aid children in developing countries- UNICEF. In 1952 it expanded nationally and it is common to see children with small UNICEF boxes to trick or treat. It is estimated that over $118 million has been collected from this Halloween tradition!
Rather than a time of darkness and fear, Halloween has become a festival of fun and excitement. Get in the mode now by reading and reading to your children-
Here are books for all ages!
Happy Halloween all!
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Being from the Northeast, it was always a cold, dark night of excitement that we all spent days, if not weeks, planning for! Amidst all the goblins and ghouls, there was always an innocence about this night. In recent years we went trick-or-treating in Arlington Virginia- what a spectacle- bonfires, decorations and lights and scariness everywhere. It was magnificent!